You guys – definitely travel and ride bikes somewhere you’ve never been before.
The Midsouth Gravel is both a gravel race and an event, but the dedication to authentic inclusion makes this event stand out. The emphasis isn’t on the pointy end of the ride (the racers) but on everyday people who show up in Stillwater, OK for a weekend of bikes and community. The organizers are dedicated to creating space for everyone.
I don’t even know where to begin. After spending 15 weeks following a training plan on Trainer Road, I was ready to throw the indoor trainer out the window. Riding bikes has always been for fun, not fitness, and this was a decision to do prescribed workouts with a specific goal of getting to a baseline that would allow me to complete a very early season 100-mile ride with 91% of the course on dirt roads. But I have to admit …. the work paid off. I achieved all of my goals for MidSouth, most importantly to finish strong.
The Day Before Midsouth
Arriving late in Oklahoma City, we grabbed some food for the hour drive out to Stillwater. Very quickly we felt like we were driving through the middle of nowhere …. which we were. On Friday we hit up the Expo, checking out the vendors and picking up swag before checking in to get the race plate and pick up my bike from the bike shop.
During the rider meeting, Bobby called up all event promoters to the stage and reminded us all that events happen because someone wants to share their roads with others. That was a wildly surreal moment.
Bobby also gave an impassioned speech that we aren’t here to race bikes; we’re here to be in community. A community where everyone is loved, valued, and is deserving of a good ride. That regardless of our challenges, we are in this together. And every single person would get a hug at the finish.
If I’m being honest, I can’t really tell you about the ride. It was people on bikes on stunning red dirt roads, all moving in the same direction but at different speeds. Some had mechanical issues and sitting beside fences, waiting for the SAG jeep. Some were taking a break to eat or drink. Despite registering solo and knowing exactly one other person who had signed up (among the 2500+ registrants across all categories and events) …. I was never alone.
But I can tell you about the people I met along the way:
- Andrea, from Pennsylvania, who was racing for Sturdy Girl Cycling. We have a mutual friend.
- Alex, from Arizona, who also had a Cutthroat in the same colors as mine. We chatted for several miles and ended up running into each other at every aid station.
- Zoe, a trans femme non-binary person from Alaska who exuded off-the-charts energy with a trans flag emblazoned with BLACK TRANS LIVES MATTER. Their energy was infectious.
- Andrew, a fellow Pactimo Ambassador, who was riding the 50 miler with his sister. We were wearing the same jerseys and bibshorts, just in different colors.
- Kenneth, a queer Latine, who chatted with me while we were filling our water bottles. He then came over to take photos with my sister and her family (who had dressed in character onesies so I could find them easier at the mid-point aid station). We caught up again at Mount Butt’r.
- Rebecca, “how you doin’, sister?” as we barrelled down a rutted-out doubletrack. We caught up at the Chamois Butt’r Mount Butt’r aid station, chatting while relaxing in the Adirondack chairs
- Yasmin, a stunningly gorgeous and incredibly strong rider (she passed me many times before we caught up at the aid station) AND FELLOW UNTAPPED AMBASSADOR! Thrilled to share my Salted Citrus stash with her.
- The older woman who was blaring disco tunes from her Bluetooth radio and yelling “I LOVE YOU JUST THE WAY YOU ARE” to everyone she passed
- Jim, the para-athlete who had run the 50k ultra run the day prior and was crushing the 100 mile route on a bike. He’ll be at Leadville both weekend this year – to run and cycle. Total beast and a really genuinely nice person!
Jim also gave me a compliment I will carry with me forever – as he pulled up beside me, he said “Wow, you’re strong. You look so calm and comfortable right now.”
- Some guy on an orange bike with a white T shirt that reminded me of my friend Kyle. We yo-yo’d a few times late in the day, exchanging brief acknowledgments whenever we’d pass each other.
- The woman I passed late in the ride with a “Deaf Cyclist” button, so I gave her visual kudos instead of yelling encouragement.
I can show you a selection of pics I snapped along the ride
PICS BECAUSE IT HAPPENED
Crossing the finish line was exhilerating. When it was my turn for the signature Bobby hug, he embraced me tightly as I thanked him for sharing his roads with me, that it was a true love letter. He effused about how this is what it’s all about and next year will be even sicker.
what went well
Having family meet me at the midpoint and end. Knowing someone was there to greet you, encourage you, and ask you about the ride so far was awesome. Don’t underestimate the psychological edge having a support crew gives you.
Training. Every day that I got on the trainer when I really wanted to just sit on the couch with my dog paid off. I wasn’t really sure someone could do hour-long structured workouts and see improvements but the proof is in the pudding. I finished strong, in under my estimated total time out, and almost exactly the ride time I wanted.
Staying open to whatever the experience would be. Signing up for an event in a location that you’ve never been before can be intimidating. Signing up without knowing anyone else who was signing up doubly so. But that allowed me the freedom to just say hi to people and talk about whatever came up.
Pancake in a cup for breakfast. Legit, always have the pancakes.
Things that could have been better
Sunscreen only works if you use it. The coating of red clay mineral loam covering me, my bike, and my stuff did not protect me from a raging sunburn.
Oklahoma. I didn’t know how beautiful Oklahoma is. I think many people like me who live in more liberal-leaning areas would dismiss the state as a bunch of backward white farmers who are scared of “progress” and its less than inspiring history of where white people forcibly marched native tribes from around the burgeoning country only to then give that very land away to white settlers through five Land Runs.
While the history is true, I think it’s also important to remember that not everyone in a state or city or block – or even a single household – have the same beliefs and political leanings. When we feel smug about living in major metropolitan cities, we can blind ourselves to the people who are working to build inclusive communities in deeply traditional areas. To boycott or ignore Oklahoma for their exclusionary policies doesn’t help those who are fighting on those front lines. Spend your time supporting those communities in transforming fear into tolerance, acceptance, and eventually love.
After dropping off my bike at the shop to be shipped back to New York, Pete and I set off to explore Oklahoma City. We found a walkable downtown where we sat down for lunch in Bricktown and then wandered north to check out the new permanent installation at Factory Obscura: Mix Tape. We then stopped in to relax and have a few drinks at Skydance Brewery (the Mandarin Fluff hard cider was exceptional) before adjourning to our hotel, getting dinner, and calling it an early night because we had to be up at 4:30am to get our flight home.
You guys – definitely travel and ride bikes somewhere you’ve never been before and be open to the experience that will unfold.
See you on the road!
Things I forgot to mention:
- Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again” on repeat in my head all day; replace “making music” to “riding gravel”
- WIND. Wide open skies meant riding West was a strong headwind; north or south was a cooling cross-breeze; and riding East was a fantastic tailwind
- Starting the day under cloudy skies, mid-50*F temps; brilliant sun coming out around mile 20; Wind; relaxing in the shade in Perry at mile 50 with my sister, her partner, her kids, and my husband; double-track and rustic, rutted-out roads; Clouds returning after mile 68 and powerful wind gusts from the North; turning right onto a 7-mile flat stretch and motoring along as the wind shifted from the West and provided a nice tailwind; another rustic road; riding through Oklahoma State University campus as we rolled back into Stillwater; hammering it the last few miles to the finish
- CHASE THE CHAISE. Rolling into the Mile 88 rest stop and seeing signs to be alert for furniture quickened my heart. A lifelong dream to Chase the Chaise achieved. Hoping they will send out the photos soon!
- Bobby’s STOKE. He is the alpha and omega of stoke. For DAYS. How is this man still awake?
- the DFL Party. The entire weekend was one huge party, which I was a bit too much in my own head to really participate in (plus, not 20 anymore). but what stuck out was the DFL Party. DFL is being the last person to cross the finish line and true to MidSouth ethos, there was a huge party for Marley Blonsky, co-founder of All Bodies on Bikes. 14 hours after the race started, she cross the finish line to receive the DFL prize – a giant longhorn skull. LEGIT – no other race does this and they absolutely should. EVERYONE deserves a great ride, not just those at the pointy end of the event.